Trial for men charged with fatal shooting of UK student delayed to 2022


Justin Smith looks on along with Efrian Diaz Jr. and Roman Gonzalez Jr. during a bond hearing for the 3 suspects involved in the murder of former Kernel photo editor Jonathan Krueger at the Fayette County Circuit Court in Lexington, Ky. on Friday, February 5, 2016. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff.

Natalie Parks

Following a status hearing in Fayette Circuit Court, the trial by jury for three men accused of killing a UK student will be delayed until April of 2022.

The suspects, Justin Smith, Roman Gonzalez and Efrain Diaz, are each charged with murder and two counts of robbery in the fatal shooting of Jonathan Krueger, a University of Kentucky student and Kentucky Kernel photo editor.

Smith also accrued charges for fleeing the police and tampering with evidence.

The shooting occurred in the early morning hours of April 17, 2015.

In the status hearing overseen by Judge Ernesto Scorsone, lawyers for Smith and Diaz said the co-defendants had failed to reach a plea deal because of a condition that such an arrangement apply to all three suspects.

Smith will appear in a May hearing to file a motion of suppression to exclude some evidence from the trial.

The trial, which will be held seven years after Kruger’s death, will not seek the death penalty for any of the accused following a Kentucky Supreme Court decision.

The initial question of whether the death penalty should be sought was raised by Scorsone, who ruled in another case that those under 21 at the time of a crime because their brains are not fully developed.

Smith was 18 and Diaz 20 at the time of the shooting.

The death penalty was never sought for Gonzalez because he was a minor at the time of the shooting. All three defendants could face 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty.

The status hearing confirmed that the prosecution will not seek the death penalty for Smith and Diaz, according to assistant attorney for the Commonwealth Amanda Morgan.

The Supreme Court decision initially said that it was too early to make a ruling and the death penalty because neither Smith nor Diaz had been convicted yet.

This is at least the third delay of the trial, which will now begin on April 4, 2022, which Scorsone said was the earliest available date.

For Krueger’s family, the trial’s delay is another delay of closure, though the pain of Jonathan’s death will never fade.

“I’m frankly stunned that it’s taken this long, but I kind of realized as time marched on these cases take on a life of their own, and they’re sort of out of our hands…I have the sense that when it’s all done it’s still going to be frustrating, just because of what happened, how senseless the whole thing was,” said Mary Krueger, Jonathan’s mother.